31 July 2020

Goodbye, Google

I am transferring my admiral's flag to a more seaworthy vessel.

I've been meaning to switch platforms for a while, but the cack-handed “improvements” that Google is making to Blogspot (which powers this site) have spurred me into action. I am abandoning this place and moving my online notebook to a new home:

https://oboluspress.com/blog

You will see that it is set up as a subdirectory of the Obolus Press, which is the publishing company I established some time ago.

Everything will remain here, dormant, but all future posts will be on the other blog.

I hope you'll follow me there.


Aubrey Beardsley, Ave Atque Vale (1896)

24 July 2020

Really Worth a Life

Stephen MacKenna, entry for January 15, 1908 (his 36th birthday),  Journal and Letters , ed. E. R. Dodds (London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1936), pp. 117-118:
I feel that my life is one long series of beginnings: I am always planning for next year, always working towards something, never at something. The one clear reason — whether 'tis an excuse or not, I don't know — is that nothing that is within my power interests me or seems worth doing. I am interested in Plotinus: to translate him into beautiful English and then to interpret him and press him into the use of this century seems to me, has always seemed to me, really worth a life — but I have not been able to give the work all my time and thought: I must write bosh and run about the world on stupid people's tracks.... I utterly lack the power many or most men have of working indifferently well at some one trade for livelihood while keeping two or three passionate efforts always marching quietly but surely on towards the great ends that are the real meaning and use of life. And, deep down, I cannot find in myself, in power or vision, any reason for believing that I can really add anything to the world, do any service: and anything less than such an effective service as will reach far beyond myself seems to me utterly unworthy. I have no interest in trifles, in trifling things or trifling people, and, being below or outside of the serious, I become trifling myself. The others I quietly scorn; myself I scorn bitterly, angrily.
MacKenna did manage to escape from journalism: He endured poverty, but completed his translation of Plotinus in 1930. He died four years later. May the earth rest lightly upon him!

All five volumes of his translation of the Enneads are on Archive.org:

They are lovely books. There's a full set available on Abe for $255.



Left: Title Page from Vol. 1                Right: Portrait of Plotinus from the Museo Ostiense, Inv. 68 (c. 205–270 AD)

23 July 2020

Friendship Before Politics

Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Hamilton (22 April 1800):
I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend. During the whole of the last war, which was trying enough, I never deserted a friend because he had taken an opposite side; and those of my own state who joined the British government can attest my unremitting zeal in saving their property, and can point out the laws in our statute books which I drew, and carried through in their favor. However I have seen during the late political paroxysm here [the XYZ affair], numbers whom I had highly esteemed draw off from me, insomuch as to cross the street to avoid meeting me. The fever is abating, & doubtless some of them will correct the momentary wanderings of their heart, & return again. If they do, they will meet the constancy of my esteem, & the same oblivion of this as of any other delirium which might happen to them.

Cf. Roger Scruton, quoted in "Roger Scruton: The Patron Saint of Lost Causes," The Independent (3 July 2005):
One of the great distinctions between the left and the right in the intellectual world is that left-wing people find it very hard to get on with right-wing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with left-wing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken. After a while, if I can persuade them that I'm not evil, I find it a very useful thing. I know that my views on many things are open to correction. But if you can't discuss with your opponents, how can you correct your views?

Jacopo Pontormo, Portrait of Two Friends (c. 1522)
(The text they are holding comes from Cicero's Amictia.)

22 July 2020

Be What Nature Intended

Sydney Smith, "On the Conduct of the Understanding," Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1855), p. 265:
There is one circumstance I would preach up, morning, noon, and night, to young persons, for the management of their understanding. Whatever you are from nature, keep to it: never desert your own line of talent. If Providence only intended you to write posies for rings, or mottoes for twelfth-cakes, keep to posies and mottoes: a good motto for a twelfth-cake is more respectable than a villainous epic poem in twelve books. Be what nature intended you for, and you will succeed; be any thing else, and you will be ten thousand times worse than nothing.
Related posts:


Benjamin West, Know Thyself  (1768)

20 July 2020

A Process of Discovery and Disentanglement

T. E. Hulme, "Bergson's Theory of Art," Speculations (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1936), pp. 149-150:
The process of artistic creation would be better described as a process of discovery and disentanglement. To use the metaphor which one is by now so familiar with — the stream of the inner life, and the definite crystallised shapes on the surface — the big artist, the creative artist, the innovator, leaves the level where things are crystallised out into these definite shapes, and, diving down into the inner flux, comes back with a new shape which he endeavours to fix. He cannot be said to have created it, but to have discovered it, because when he has definitely expressed it we recognise it as true. Great painters are men in whom has originated a certain vision of things which has become or will become the vision of everybody. Once the painter has seen it, it becomes easy for all of us to see it. A mould has been made. But the creative activity came in the effort which was necessary to disentangle this particular type of vision from the general haze the effort, that is, which is necessary to break moulds and to make new ones. For instance, the effect produced by Constable on the English and French Schools of landscape painting. Nobody before Constable saw things, or at any rate painted them, in that particular way. This makes it easier to see clearly what one means by an individual way of looking at things. It does not mean something which is peculiar to an individual, for in that case it would be quite valueless. It means that a certain individual artist was able to break through the conventional ways of looking at things which veil reality from us at a certain point, was able to pick out one element which is really in all of us, but which before he had disentangled it, we were unable to perceive. It is as if the surface of our mind was a sea in a continual state of motion, that there were so many waves on it, their existence was so transient, and they interfered so much with each other, that one was unable to perceive them. The artist by making a fixed model of one of these transient waves enables you to isolate it out and to perceive it in yourself. In that sense art merely reveals, it never creates.
John Constable, The Wheat Field (1816)

18 July 2020

Tennyson Weather

 J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), p. 54:
Deep red hollyhocks pressed against the limestone wall and velvet butterflies flopped lazily from flower to flower. It was Tennyson weather, drowsy, warm, unnaturally still.

A related post: A Disinclination to Sleep Away From Home


Frederick Carl Frieseke, Hollyhocks (1913)

17 July 2020

Would You Turn Your Muses into Maidservants?

Lionel de Fonseka, On the Truth of Decorative Art (New York: Henry Holt, 1913), p. 41:
“Do you think then that it detracts from the dignity of an art to be used as an instrument of social reform?”

“Come, come, I appeal to your sense of decorum. Would not a proper Greek have been shocked if Zeus deserted the majesty of his throne on Olympus, usurped the function of the lame god Hephaestus, and set about tinkering? Would you turn your Muses into maidservants?”

Hat tip: Charles E. Burchfield, via Anecdotal Evidence


Henri Martin, La Muse du pientre (c. 1900)

14 July 2020

Spiritual Swamp Fever

J. K. Huysmans, Les Foules de Lourdes (Paris: P. V. Stock, 1906), pp. 213-214 (my translation):
In the past there were scandals every day, but of course we were unaware of them. Now the press spreads them everywhere, even into the most remote corners of the country — and for quite some time they have made us less considerate and less deferential.

No one believes in the honesty of politicians any more, or in the value of generals, or in the independence of judges; no one thinks that the clergy are saints. Without allowing for the exceptions that still exist, we have thrown the peaked cap, the white wig, and the galero into the same bag and sent them all off to the dump. At the moment we are suffering from a kind of malaria of disrespect. No one is safe from this spiritual swamp fever; everyone is affected by it to some extent because no one can escape the atmosphere of his age, and people have even less hope of eluding the demonic influences that are more intense today than they have ever been... The devil is in everything we think, in everything we say, and he is the very air that we breathe.

Félicien Rops, Satan Sewing Weeds (1906)

9 July 2020

6 July 2020

Menace, Madness, Written and Spoken Lies

Alfred Tennyson, “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After,” lines 104-114,  The Complete Poetical Works of Tennyson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898), p. 520:
Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell how all will end?
Read the wide world's annals, you, and take their wisdom for your friend.

Hope the best, but hold the Present fatal daughter of the Past,
Shape your heart to front the hour, but dream not that the hour will last.

Ay, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise —
When was age so cramm'd with menace? madness? written, spoken lies?

Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,
Cries to weakest as to strongest, 'Ye are equals, equal-born.'

Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.
Charm us, orator, till the lion look no larger than the cat,

Till the cat thro' that mirage of overheated language loom
Larger than the lion, — Demos end in working its own doom.

G. F. Watts, Alfred, Lord Tennyson (c. 1863)

30 June 2020

A Vision Lost and Buried in a Very Different Past

George Grant, Lament for a Nation (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1994), p. 25:
Growing up in Ontario, the generation of the 1920s took it for granted that they belonged to a nation. The character of the country was self-evident. To say it was British was not to deny it was North American. To be a Canadian was to be a unique species of North American. Such alternatives as F. H. Underhill’s - “Stop being British if you want to be a nationalist” - seemed obviously ridiculous. We were grounded in the wisdom of Sir John A. Macdonald, who saw plainly more than a hundred years ago that the only threat to nationalism was from the South, not from across the sea. To be a Canadian was to build, along with the French, a more ordered and stable society than the liberal experiment in the United States. Now that this hope has been extinguished, we are too old to be retrained by a new master. We find ourselves like fish left on the shores of a drying lake.

Id., pp. 55-56:
The crucial years were those of the early [nineteen] forties. The decisions of those years were made once and for all, and were not compatible with the continuance of a sovereign Canadian nation. Once it was decided that Canada was to be a branch-plant society of American capitalism, the issue of Canadian nationalism had been settled. The decision may or may not have been necessary; it may have been good or bad for Canada to be integrated into the international capitalism that has dominated the West since 1945. But certainly Canada could not exist as a nation when the chief end of the government’s policy was the quickest integration into that complex. The Liberal policy under [C. D.] Howe was integration as fast as possible and at all costs. No other consideration was allowed to stand in the way. The society produced by such policies may reap enormous benefits, but it will not be a nation. Its culture will become the empire’s to which it belongs. Branch-plant economies have branch-plant cultures.

Id., pp. 82-83:
[Early Canadian settlers felt] an inchoate desire to build, in these cold and forbidding regions, a society with a greater sense of order and restraint than freedom-loving republicanism would allow. It was no better defined than a kind of suspicion that we in Canada could be less lawless and have a greater sense of propriety than the United States. The inherited determination not to be Americans allowed these British people to come to a modus vivendi with the more defined desires of the French. English-speaking Canadians have been called a dull, stodgy, and indeed costive lot. In these dynamic days, such qualities are particularly unattractive to the chic. Yet our stodginess has made us a society of greater simplicity, formality, and perhaps even innocence than the people to the south. Whatever differences there were between the Anglicans and the Presbyterians, and however differently their theologians might interpret the doctrine of original sin, both communities believed that the good life made strict demands on self-restraint. Nothing was more alien to them than the “emancipation of the passions” desired in American liberalism. An ethic of self-restraint naturally looks with suspicion on utopian movements, which proceed from an ethic of freedom. The early leaders of British North America identified lack of public and personal restraint with the democratic Republic. Their conservatism was essentially the social doctrine that public order and tradition, in contrast to freedom and experiment, were central to the good life.

Id., p. 106:
Those who loved the older traditions of Canada may be allowed to lament what has been lost, even though they do not know whether or not that loss will lead to some greater political good. But lamentation falls easily into the vice of self-pity. To live with courage is a virtue, whatever one may think of the dominant assumptions of one’s age. Multitudes of human beings through the course of history have had to live when their only political allegiance was irretrievably lost. What was lost was often something far nobler than what Canadians have lost. Beyond courage, it is also possible to live in the ancient faith, which asserts that changes in the world, even if they be recognized more as a loss than a gain, take place within an eternal order that is not affected by their taking place. Whatever the difficulty of philosophy, the religious man has been told that process is not all. “Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore.”

J. E. H. MacDonald, Algoma Waterfall (1920)

Post title from The Cowboy Junkies, The Last Spike

26 June 2020

The Aesthetic Virtues

Jules Breton, The Life of an Artist: An Autobiography, tr. Mary J. Serrano (New York: D. Appleton, 1890), pp. 290-291:
A painter may be interesting provided he has studied Nature sufficiently to avoid copying her expressionless aspects, but he will touch the feelings only in so far as he can interpret her intensities.

How is the artist to learn to recognize the essential features of Nature which he is to depict, and the commonplaces which he is to avoid?

He can only do this by elevating his soul by the contemplation of the beautiful spectacles which strike his imagination, and by lovingly interpreting them.

For it is not enough to discern and portray the superficial character of things; it is necessary also — and this is the most important point — to interpret their meaning, their expression learned by putting our souls in communication with what I shall call the souls of inanimate objects.

For everything in nature has a hidden, and, so to say, a moral life.

This life is mysterious, but in nowise chimerical, and only those, whether poets or artists, who are penetrated deeply with it, have the power to touch the feelings.

What is the sky to me if it does not give me the idea of infinity?

Looking at a twilight scene, it matters little that my eye should receive the impression of the view, if my spirit does not at once experience a feeling of repose, of tranquillity, and of peace. A bunch of flowers should, above all things, rejoice the eye by its freshness.

The spirit of a subject should take precedence of the letter.

Force, Elegance, Majesty, Sweetness, Splendor, Grace, Naiveté, Abundance, Simplicity, Richness, Humility — some one of these qualities, according to the genius of the painter and the nature of the subject, should strike the beholder, in every work, before he has had the time to take in the details of the scene represented.

These are the aesthetic virtues.

They are common to all the arts, which live only through them. The most skillful execution, the most accurate knowledge, can not supply their place.

They are eternal, and pass through the caprices of fashion, without losing any of their sovereign power.

Jules Breton, Le pré fleuri à Courrières (1888)

 For the original see La vie d'un artiste (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1890), pp. 280-281

Related posts:

23 June 2020

Unable to Fight

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Dawn and Sunrise of History,” The Outlook (February 14, 1917), a review of James Henry Breasted's Ancient Times:
The curse of every ancient civilization was that its men in the end became unable to fight. Materialism, luxury, safety, even sometimes an almost modern sentimentality, weakened the fiber of each civilized race in turn; each became in the end a nation of pacifists, and then each was trodden under foot by some ruder people that had kept that virile fighting power the lack of which makes all other virtues useless and sometimes even harmful.
This review is in Vol. 12 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926).

John Singer Sargent, Theodore Roosevelt (1903)

A related post: Courage

18 June 2020

Hiraeth

C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 30:
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you — the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Henri Le Sidaner, Matinée, Montreuil-Bellay (1896)

13 June 2020

Keep Apart

George Gissing, letter to his brother Algernon (22 September, 1885), The Collected letters of George Gissing: 1881-1885, Vol. 2 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 349:
Keep apart, keep apart, and preserve one's soul alive — that is the teaching for the day. It is ill to have been born in these times, but one can make a world within the world. A glimpse of the morning or evening sky will give the right note, and then we must make what music we can.

Théodore Rousseau, Crépuscule en Sologne (1867)

This is one of the first things I posted when I began this blog in 2011.
I still think of it often — just about every day this week.

10 June 2020

A Reminder of the Scale of our Compromise

Alain de Botton (presumed author), "Why Very Beautiful Scenes Can Make Us So Melancholy," The Book of Life :
Beauty has served to highlight, by contrast, everything that has come before. We notice – in a way we couldn’t yesterday – how much disappointment, violence, meanness and humiliation has been written into the structure of our ordinary surroundings and routines and has from there seeped into our souls. Thanks to the little limestone church (that we’ll visit after breakfast) assembled by craftsmen around 1430 and ringing its bells for morning service, we’re finally in a position to feel how much agony is latent in our hearts. We haven’t been pain-free all this time, we’ve just been numb, holding in our sorrow because there was nowhere to discharge it, because there were no alternatives to it and nothing to remind us of the scale of our compromise.

The beauty of the landscape is like the very kind friend who, after a period of turmoil, puts a hand gently on ours and asks how we have been – and does so with such tenderness and intelligent concern, we surprise ourselves by bursting into tears that don’t stop for a very long time.

Hans Thoma, Blick auf ein Taunustal (1890)

9 June 2020

Morning Meditation

I bought a licence for The Doves Type (recovered from the Thames in 2014) a while ago and I have been experimenting with it a little recently, setting a quote from Marcus Aurelius's Meditations to fit onto a standard 8.5 x 11 page:


I suppose I should have picked a different quote, something to show off the "ct" ligature, but I am fond of this one.

If you have a Dropbox account, feel free to download the PDF from here. Otherwise just send me a message (andrewjrickard@gmail.com) and I'd be happy to email it to you.

4 June 2020

Hurried Down the Stream of Dissipation

Sallust, “Catiline's Conspiracy,” The Works of Sallust, tr. Arthur Murphy (London: James Carpenter, 1807), pp. 17-18:
A series of prosperity is often too much even for the wisest and best disposed: that men corrupted should make a temperate use of their victory could not be expected. Riches became the epidemic passion; and where honours, imperial sway, and power, followed in their train, virtue lost her influence, poverty was deemed the meanest disgrace, and innocence was thought to be no better than a mark for malignity of heart. In this manner riches engendered luxury, avarice, and pride; and by those vices the Roman youth were enslaved. Rapacity and profusion went on increasing; regardless of their own property, and eager to seize that of their neighbours, all rushed forward without shame or remorse, confounding every thing sacred and profane, and scorning the restraint of moderation and justice. . . .

To these vices, that conspired against the commonwealth, many others may be added, such as prostitution, convivial debauchery, and all kinds of licentious pleasure. The men unsexed themselves, and the women made their persons venal. For the pleasures of the table, sea and land were ransacked; the regular returns of thirst and hunger were anticipated; the hour of sleep was left to caprice and accident; cold was a sensation not to be endured by delicate habits; luxury was the business of life, and by that every thing was governed. In this scene of general depravity, the extravagance of youth exhausted whatever was left of their patrimonial stock, and their necessities urged them on to the perpetration of the most flagitious deeds. The mind, habituated to every vice, could not divest itself of passions that had taken root, and, by consequence, all were hurried down the stream of dissipation, eager to grasp whatever could administer to inordinate and wild desires.

Thomas Couture, Romains de la décadence (1847)

A related post: Hapless Ages

1 June 2020

A Controlling Power Upon Will and Appetite

Edmund Burke, A Letter From Mr. Burke to a Member of the National Assembly (London: J. Dodsley, 1791), pp. 68-69:
Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Honoré Daumier, L'Émeute (1848-1852)

Not unrelated: Revolutionary Talent

27 May 2020

Thoughts Are Free

On their way home after being released from Waldheim prison in May 1945, Henriette Roosenburg and her Dutch friends stayed in a castle outside of Ragewitz. It was occupied by a number of German aristocrats who had relatives connected to the 20 July plot. One of them, a woman with four young daughters, heard the Dutch singing and they gathered for an impromptu concert.



Henriette Roosenburg, The Walls Came Tumbling Down (Pleasantville: The Akadine Press, 2000), p. 91:
Finally, the mother asked us the question we had dreaded from the start: Didn’t we know any German songs? 

This put us in a quandary. Practically the only German songs we knew were those that had been dinned into our ears by German soldiers marching through the streets of our home towns. Often we had been awakened at dawn, when a squad of singing soldiers returned from the dirty business of executing a member of the resistance. We knew the songs all right, but we would have been quartered alive rather than sing them. Nell rescued us. From her long experience with boy scouts she remembered several Wandervögel (hiking-club) songs and kept proposing them till she hit on one we all knew and had no objection to. The title was “Die Gedanken sind frei ”, meaning “Thoughts are free”, and we sang it with feeling. In the dim light I even imagined I saw a responsive wink from the mother, but I couldn’t be sure. They left after this, each of the four daughters solemnly shaking our hands and making a little curtsey for each of us. 
Die Gedanken sind frei  is one of my favourites. I am especially fond of this version by the Rundfunk-Jugendchor Wernigerode (includes English subtitles). The 11th Panzergrenadier Division also recorded it as a marching song in the early 1960s.

Henriette Roosenburg (1916-1972)

21 May 2020

Death of a Bookman

Death of a Book-Lover, an engraving by Johann Rudolf Schellenberg, in Johann Karl August Musäus, Freund Heins Erscheinungen in Holbeins Manier (Winterthur: Heinrich Steiner und Comp., 1785), p. 134:



Hat tip: The German Museum of Books and Writing

20 May 2020

Die Bücherstube

Heidelberg University library has digitized the 1922/1923 edition of Die Bücherstube, a journal for bibliophiles. It contains a number of interesting things, including a piece about the bibliomaniac Johann Georg Tinius and an essay by Willy Wiegand on typography and the Bremer Presse. If I had the time I would translate both of them...



Aside: I see that the Bremer Presse typeface has been revived.

12 May 2020

A Withering of the Spirit

Harris Athanasiadis, George Grant and the Theology of the Cross (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 56:
It is true that there is a good side to the mass society. There is unprecedented surplus wealth, which has led to an ease in earning a living for more people than ever before. This is in contrast to the back-breaking labour that has marked previous centuries. With this ease comes greater leisure time. But have human beings cultivated the knowledge of what is worth doing with their leisure time? Not really. The growth in cheap and vulgar sensuality is also a sign of the times.

Moreover, there is a price to be paid for a mass society in terms of community. The old rural, agricultural, and commercial communities have been swept away by the growth of cities. With large cities come alienation, loneliness, and frustration for the masses. With migration to cities also comes uprootedness and the formation of new communities with no past. This leads to a withering of spirit. Furthermore, new forms of industrial labour require little skill or thought by workers, who are like cogs in a large mechanism. With uncreative and meaningless work also comes a withering of the spirit.

Grant Wood, Vegetable Farm (1924)

5 May 2020

They Cram His Unwilling Maw

Herbert Read, "George Saintsbury," A Coat of Many Colours (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1945), pp. 199-200:
There can scarcely be a critic or student of literature today, in this country or in America, who has not benefited liberally from such books as the History of Criticism, the History of English Prosody and the History of English Prose Rhythm. But these works are not in any real sense criticism; nominally they are historical, and even as history they should be further qualified as surveys rather than as investigations. The latter type of history implies a very limited field, and very deep burrowing; Saintsbury skimmed over the surface of received facts, marshalled them and ordered them, in some sense masticated them for less voracious readers. His books will probably be used as manual by several generations of undergraduates; for official education such as it is, they are perfect instruments. They guide the student down tidy paths, they cram his unwilling maw with the fruit of knowledge, they lead him inevitably into the wilderness of satiety. They communicate a sense of the author's enormous gusto.
I am sorry to say that I was not assigned, nor did I read, any of Saintsbury's criticism while I was an undergraduate. I have a vague recollection of taking his Notes on a Cellar-Book out of the library.

William Nicholson, Portrait of George Saintsbury (1923)

27 April 2020

The Bedrock of Nations

Henry Clay Dawson, The Hog Book (Chicago: The Breeder's Gazette, 1911), p. 18:
No nation can long remain powerful that does not produce its own food. All wealth by the personal use of its symbols, gold and silver, gives neither life, health nor comfort, but agriculture gives all these to man and secures to his arm the powers of might and possession. Agriculture is the bedrock of nations, and their prosperity largely is measured by the intelligence and industry of tillers of the soil. In ancient Rome and Greece agriculture became a lost art, and decadence was the result.
Hat tip: The Farmer's Bookshelf


Jean-François Millet, Potato Planters (1861)

Related posts:

21 April 2020

Wild Unintelligibility

John Canaday, Embattled Critic (New York: Noonday Press, 1962), p. 33:
We suffer, actually, from a kind of mass guilt complex. Because Delacroix was spurned by the Academy until he was old and sick, because Courbet had to build his own exhibition hall in 1855 to get a showing for pictures that are now in the Louvre, because Manet was laughed at, because Cézanne worked in obscurity, because Van Gogh sold only one picture during his lifetime, because Gauguin died in poverty and alone, because nineteenth-century critics and teachers and art officials seemed determined to annihilate every painter of genius — because of all this we have tried to atone to a current generation of pretenders to martyrdom. Somewhere at the basis of their thinking, and the thinking of several generations of college students who have taken the art appreciation course, is the premise that wild unintelligibility alone places a contemporary artist in line with great men who were misunderstood by their contemporaries.

What a load of crap.

A related post: The Contract Between Artist and Public

15 April 2020

Bravery in Bedclothes

Seneca, "Letter LXXVIII," Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, tr. Richard M. Gummere, Vol. II (Loeb Classical Library; London: Heinemann, 1917), pp. 195:
It is your body that is hampered by ill-health, and not your soul as well. It is for this reason that it clogs the feet of the runner and will hinder the handiwork of the cobbler or the artisan; but if your soul be habitually in practice, you will plead and teach, listen and learn, investigate and meditate. What more is necessary? Do you think that you are doing nothing if you possess self-control in your illness? You will be showing that a disease can be overcome, or at any rate endured. There is, I assure you, a place for virtue even upon a bed of sickness. It is not only the sword and the battle-line that prove the soul alert and unconquered of fear; a man can display bravery even when wrapped in his bedclothes. You have something to do: wrestle bravely with disease. If it shall compel you to nothing, beguile you to nothing, it is an example that you display. O what ample matter were there for renown, if we could have spectators of our sickness! Be your own spectator; seek your own applause.

J. M. W. Turner, A Bedroom: The Empty Bed (1827)

14 April 2020

Let the Waters Flow on in Their Course

François Fénelon, "Letter XXI: On Calmly Enduring the Irregularities of Others," Selections From the Writings of Fenelon, tr. Eliza Lee Follen (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins, 1829), p. 188:
Let the waters flow on in their course. Let men be men, that is to say, be vain, inconstant, unjust, false, and presumptuous. Let the world be the world; you cannot help it. Let each one follow his own bent, and his own ways; you cannot form him over again! It is wiser to leave men to themselves, and to endure them. Accustom yourself to unreasonableness and injustice. Remain at peace in the presence of God, who knows all your trials and permits them. Be satisfied with doing with calmness, what depends upon yourself, and let the rest be as if it were not.
The original (Lettre Spirituelle No. 79) from Oeuvres de Fénelon, Vol. 1 (Paris: Didot Frères, Fils & Cie., 1857), p. 503:
Laissez couler l'eau sous les ponts, laissez les hommes être hommes, c'est-à-dire faibles, vains, inconstants, injustes, faux et présomptueux. Laissez le monde être toujours monde; c'est tout dire: aussi bien ne l'empêcheriez-vous pas. Laissez chacun suivre son naturel et ses habitudes: vous ne sauriez les refondre; le plus court est de les laisser, et de les souffrir. Accoutumez-vous à la déraison et à l'injustice. Demeurez en paix dans le sein de Dieu, qui voit mieux que vous tous ces maux, et qui les permet. Contentez-vous de faire sans ardeur le peu qui dépend de vous; que tout le reste soit pour vous comme s'il n'était pas.

Frits Thaulow (1847–1906), French River Landscape with a Stone Bridge

8 April 2020

Biographical Details

Herbert Furst, Chardin (London: Methuen & Co., 1911), pp. 26-27:
Show me a man's House, and I will tell you his character; show me a man's Work, and I will do the same. From this point of view there is not only deceit and candour, method or slovenliness, industry or sloth, but also morality and immorality — goodness and badness in Art. Those who maintain that Morals have no place in Art, or, on the contrary, that good morals and the best art do go, or should go together, are simply bringing certain ideas into an impossible relationship. A beautiful tree, say an aged gnarled oak, may be very bad timber, and in looking at it we may be conscious of both facts. In the same manner we may express our preference for a poodle over a bull-dog, but it would surely be senseless to demand the good points of a bull-dog to be repeated in the poodle. Some may therefore very properly prefer moral art to immoral art, only, whether moral or immoral, it may be equally fine art, just as both poodle and bull-dog may be equally fine animals.

This seeming digression was, I am afraid, necessary, because one meets the confusion of these ideas continually, in which the one camp seems to be often as hopelessly wrong as the other.

If personal qualities were not intimately connected with the expression of Art, biographical details would be altogether superfluous in a book such as this; but such details are, as a matter of fact, of very great interest, because they help us to estimate a man's work more truly, telling us why it had to take just that form in which it actually appears. And the investigation of the events of a painter's life and traits of character are as instructive and fascinating as the examination of his sketches and studies — it is the Man that makes the Artist — the driving power behind the brush.

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Still Life with a White Mug (c. 1764)

Not unrelated: Life Is Short and Hard

2 April 2020

Patience

Vincent Van Gogh, The Letters of a Post-Impressionist, tr. Anthony Ludovici (London: Constable and Company, 1912), p. 51:
The symbol of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, is as you know an ox. Thus one must be as patient as an ox if one would wish to cultivate the field of art. But how lucky oxen are to have nothing to do with this confounded business of painting! 
Id., p. 76:
Art is long and life is fleeting, and one must try with patience to sell one's life as dearly as possible.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cart with Red and White Ox (1884)

Aside: I thought At Eternity's Gate  was quite well done. It is on Amazon Prime Video.

30 March 2020

Art Offers Relief

Gustave Coquiot, Maurice Utrillo (Paris: André Delpeuch, 1925), pp. 60-61 (my translation):
I still remember — and how vividly! — the time, that happy time, when Utrillo worked only for me. Up there on the Butte, in the middle of the war, this strange monk shut up in his cell provided me with the only moments of relief I knew in the midst of all that hideous human carnage. Verdun, the mass graves, the deformed faces, all the blood, all the death, all the stench of the slaughterhouses, all the cries, all the horror of those lunatics who had been turned against each another by the butchers of Empire or Republic. When I contemplated a new painting by Utrillo, I forgot it all for a moment. The sight of a small white church, it gave one hope for less savage tomorrows. The war is finally over, crushed under the weight of so many corpses. What was the source of this brief feeling of respite? I do not want to analyze it too closely, for fear of regretting all the things which, if I had been born in a different age, I should have been able to share with others...
The libraries are shut down, hundreds of thousands of people are out of work, and Amazon says that book deliveries will be delayed: I can't think of a more auspicious time to announce that my translation of this monograph is now available. Readers in North America may visit  Google Books for a preview.


Maurice Utrillo, Church at Anet (c. 1916-18)

27 March 2020

To Them Who Have Eyes to See and Hearts to Feel

William Ellery Channing, "The Religious Principle in Human Nature," The Perfect Life (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1873), pp. 12-13:
Beauty, that mysterious charm which is spread over and through the universe, who is unconscious of its winning attraction? Whose heart has not softened into joy, as he has looked on hill and valley and cultivated plain, on stream and forest, on the rising or setting sun, on the constant stars and the serene sky? Now whenever this love of the beautiful unfolds into strong emotion, its natural influence is to lead up our minds to contemplate a brighter Beauty than is revealed in creation. To them, who have eyes to see and hearts to feel the loveliness of nature, it speaks of a higher, holier Presence. They hear God in its solemn harmonies, they behold Him its fresh verdure, fair forms, and sunny hues. To great numbers, I am persuaded, the beauty of nature is a more affecting testimony to God than even its wise contrivance.

Carl Gustav Carus, Blick auf Dresden bei Sonnenuntergang (c. 1822)

25 March 2020

Poetry Readings Cancelled

George Orwell, "Poetry and the Microphone," The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. II (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 331-332:
In broadcasting your audience is conjectural, but it is an audience of one. Millions may be listening, but each is listening alone, or as a member of a small group, and each has (or ought to have) the feeling that you are speaking to him individually. More than this, it is reasonable to assume that your audience is sympathetic, or at least interested, for anyone who is bored can promptly switch you off by turning a knob. But though presumably sympathetic, the audience has no power over you. It is just here that a broadcast differs from a speech or a lecture. On the platform, as anyone used to public speaking knows, it is almost impossible not to take your tone from the audience. It is always obvious within a few minutes what they will respond to and what they will not, and in practice you are almost compelled to speak for the benefit of what you estimate as the stupidest person present, and also to ingratiate yourself by means of the ballyhoo known as "personality". If you don't do so, the result is always an atmosphere of frigid embarrassment. That grisly thing, a "poetry reading", is what it is because there will always be some among the audience who are bored or all but frankly hostile and who can't remove themselves by the simple act of turning a knob. And it is at bottom the same difficulty — the fact that a theatre audience is not a selected one — that makes it impossible to get a decent performance of Shakespeare in England. On the air these conditions do not exist. The poet feels that he is addressing people to whom poetry means something, and it is a fact that poets who are used to broadcasting can read into the microphone with a virtuosity they would not equal if they had a visible audience in front of them.

Eric Gill, Ariel Between Wisdom and Gaiety (1932)
Broadcasting House, London

19 March 2020

The Only Passion Which Augments With Age

John Claudius Loudon in the introduction to An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), p. 2:
The pleasure attending the pursuit of gardening is conducive to health and repose of mind; and a taste for the enjoyment of gardens is so natural to man, as almost to be universal. Our first most endearing and most sacred associations, Mrs. Hofland observes, are connected with gardens; our most simple and most refined perceptions of beauty are combined with them; and the very condition of our being compels us to the cares, and rewards us with the pleasures attached to them. Gardening has been the inclination of kings and the choice of philosophers, Sir William Temple has observed; and the Prince de Ligne, after sixty years’ experience, affirms, that the love of gardens is the only passion which augments with age: “Je voudrois,” he says, “échauffer tout l’univers de mon gôut pour les jardins. II me semble qu’il est impossible, qu’un méchant puisse 1’avoir. Il n’est point de vertus que je ne suppose à celui qui aime à parler et a faire des jardins. Pères de famille, inspirez la jardinomanie à vos enfans.” 1 (Memoires et Lettres, tom. i.)

That which makes the cares of gardening more necessary, or at least more excusable, the former author adds, is, that all men eat fruit that can get it; so that the choice is only, whether one will eat good or ill; and for all things produced in a garden, whether of salads or fruits, a poor man will eat better that has one of his own, than a rich man that has none.
My (liberal) translation from the French: "I wish I could make the whole universe as fond of gardens as I am. I do not believe a wicked person could share this fondness. If a man likes to discuss and cultivate gardens, I do not doubt any of his virtues. Family men, encourage a craze for gardening among your children!"

Arthur Melville, A Cabbage Garden (1877)

An unpaid endorsement:
I received my package from the Ontario Seed Company just 3 days after placing the order.

17 March 2020

O Foode of Filthy Woorme

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, "Cur Mundus Militat," lines 20-25, The Paradise Of Dainty Devices (1576-1606), ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), p. 6:
O foode of filthy woorme, oh lumpe of lothsome clay,                          20
O life full like the deawe, which mornyng sunne dooth waste:
O shadowe vayne, whose shape with sunne dooth shrinke away,
Why gloryest thou so much, in honour to be plaste?
Sith that no certayne houre, of life thou dost enjoy,
Most fyt it were, thy tyme in goodnesse to employ.                                25
Sith: Since

In his notes (p. 181), Rollins writes: "Perhaps no other poem was more popular in Middle English and Tudor English — to say nothing of French — than St. Bernard's."


George Frederic Watts,
Time, Death, and Judgement (1899-1900)

A related post: Of Worms and the Man I Sing

10 March 2020

A Disinclination to Sleep Away From Home

J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), p. 51:
Day after day that August, the weather stayed hot and dry. These days we call it real holiday weather but, then, only the well-to-do in those parts went far afield and even a week at Scarborough was remarkable. Folk stayed at home and took their pleasure from an agricultural show, a travelling fair, a Sunday-school outing or, if they had social pretentious, a tennis party with cucumber sandwiches. Most country people had a deep-rooted disinclination to sleep away from home and a belief that, like as not, to sojourn amongst strangers was to fall among them. It was the way they always had lived and, like their forefathers, they travelled no further than a horse or their own legs could carry them there and back in a day.

Charles-François Daubigny, Harvest (1851)

Related posts:

4 March 2020

Big in Japan

My translation of Henri Le Sidaner's biography is currently ranked 34th in the Art History category on Amazon Japan. I do not know why, but I am glad that it is so.

ありがとうございます


I've got the style, but not the grace.

A related post: Henri Le Sidaner

2 March 2020

Quarantine

Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus 27.2-4 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
Indeed, nothing was left untouched and neglected, but with all the necessary details of life he [Lycurgus] blended some commendation of virtue or rebuke of vice; and he filled the city full of good examples, whose continual presence and society must of necessity exercise a controlling and moulding influence upon those who were walking the path of honour.

This was the reason why he did not permit them to live abroad at their pleasure and wander in strange lands, assuming foreign habits and imitating the lives of peoples who were without training and lived under different forms of government. Nay more, he actually drove away from the city the multitudes which streamed in there for no useful purpose, not because he feared they might become imitators of his form of government and learn useful lessons in virtue, as Thucydides says, but rather that they might not become in any wise teachers of evil. For along with strange people, strange doctrines must come in; and novel doctrines bring novel decisions, from which there must arise many feelings and resolutions which destroy the harmony of the existing political order. Therefore he thought it more necessary to keep bad manners and customs from invading and filling the city than it was to keep out infectious diseases.

Ambroise Tardieu, Lycurgus of Sparta (c. 1820-1828)

25 February 2020

What Then Is the Work of Life?

Daniel Defoe, "The Instability of Human Glory," English Essays, ed. J. H. Lobban (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1909), pp. 13-14:
What then is the work of life? What the business of great men, that pass the stage of the world in seeming triumph as these men, we call heroes, have done? Is it to grow great in the mouth of fame and take up many pages in history? Alas! that is no more than making a tale for the reading of posterity till it turns into fable and romance. Is it to furnish subject to the poets, and live in their immortal rhymes, as they call them? That is, in short, no more than to be hereafter turned into ballad and song and be sung by old women to quiet children, or at the corner of a street to gather crowds in aid of the pick-pocket and the poor. Or is their business rather to add virtue and piety to their glory, which alone will pass them into eternity and make them truly immortal? What is glory without virtue? A great man without religion is no more than a great beast without a soul. What is honour without merit? And what can be called true merit but that which makes a person be a good man as well as a great man?

Edward Burne-Jones, Love and the Pilgrim (1896-7)

13 February 2020

Honest and Deeply Worrying

Mark Boyle, The Way Home; Tales From a Life Without Technology (London: Oneworld Publications, 2019), pp. 26-28:
A few years ago, before I rejected the internet, I was searching online for an image of a wild crab apple, hoping to make a positive identification. Instead of finding photographs of the plum-leaved or hawthorn-leaved crab, the screen was dominated by the trademarked logo of the Apple corporation. Taken aback, I typed in ‘blackberry’ and ‘orange’ to see what would happen. I was offered mobile phone deals. I hadn’t heard of Tinder at the time, but I don’t imagine pictures of wood shavings, bracken, and birch bark would have monopolised the page.

Six months later I read Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, his remarkable, place-particularising contribution to a ‘glossary of enchantment for the whole earth’. In it he revealed some of the words that had been deleted from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. They included:
acorn, alder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow.
In their place, Oxford University Press had added:
attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, Chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voicemail.
The publishing company’s explanation that these are the things that now comprise a child’s life was pragmatic, understandable, honest, and deeply worrying.

In preparation for a life without the internet, a week or so before I unplugged I found a 2000 edition of the Collins English Dictionary; 1785 pages drawn from a ‘Bank of English’ consisting of examples of 323 million words. My own vocabulary has improved since getting it and using it to replace the online dictionaries I had used for years. If I wanted to understand the definition of a word in the past I would simply Google it, and by the time I had exhaled the ‘w’ of ‘now’ I’d have its meaning. But nothing else. Now if I want to find out the year Gerard Manley Hopkins died, my eye is caught by curiosities from hookworm (no thanks) to horn of plenty (another name for cornucopia — yes please) instead of a screenful of carefully targeted adverts.

Reading it is interesting. Only seven years older than the concise Oxford Junior Dictionary, there’s no mention of block-graph, blog, bullet-point, chatroom or MP3 player. There’s no entry either for currel – a word once specific to East Anglia which describes a specifically small stream – or smeuse, which Sussex farmers once called that ‘gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’.

The smartphone generation, having never played with them, will not miss words like ‘conkers’. It’s odd – when I was growing up in 1990s Ireland on a working-class council estate on the edgelands of a struggling town, no one ever asked me if I missed anything about the natural world. But the moment I choose bluebells over bullet-points I’ve found that everyone wants to know what I miss most about machines.

Willard Metcalf, Pasture, Old Lyme (1906)

11 February 2020

Death Will Reconcile Us All

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (London: Folio Society, 1992), p. 179:
Here we may observe, and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it, that a near view of death would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy situation in life and our putting these things far from us that our breaches are fomented, ill blood continued, prejudices, breach of charity and of Christian union, so much kept and so far carried on among us as it is. Another plague year would reconcile all these differences; a close conversing with death, or with diseases that threaten death, would scum off the gall from our tempers, remove the animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before. As the people who had been used to join with the Church were reconciled at this time with the admitting the Dissenters to preach to them, so the Dissenters, who with an uncommon prejudice had broken off from the communion of the Church of England, were now content to come to their parish churches and to conform to the worship which they did not approve of before; but as the terror of the infection abated, those things all returned again to their less desirable channel and to the course they were in before.

I mention this but historically. I have no mind to enter into arguments to move either or both sides to a more charitable compliance one with another. I do not see that it is probable such a discourse would be either suitable or successful; the breaches seem rather to widen, and tend to a widening further, than to closing, and who am I that I should think myself able to influence either one side or other? But this I may repeat again, that 'tis evident death will reconcile us all; on the other side the grave we shall be all brethren again. In heaven, whither I hope we may come from all parties and persuasions, we shall find neither prejudice or scruple; there we shall be of one principle and of one opinion. Why we cannot be content to go hand in hand to the place where we shall join heart and hand without the least hesitation, and with the most complete harmony and affection,—I say, why we cannot do so here I can say nothing to, neither shall I say anything more of it but that it remains to be lamented.

Arnold Böcklin, The Plague (1898)

6 February 2020

Take the Weight Off Your Psyche

Mary Hobson, The Feast; An Autobiography (London: Thorpewood Publishing, 2015), p. 76:
The person who benefits most from any translation is the translator. By the time you have sucked the juice out of every last Russian idea, thrown all the English words into the air which are in any way connected with it, found two that rhyme (sometimes three in Pushkin’s case), shunted them along to the end of the line, while attempting to preserve the music of the thing and rejecting anything that Jane Austen could not have said naturally in prose, continually asking yourself ‘How would Pushkin have said that if he’d been an Englishman?’, you feel as close to the poem as you're likely to get. And to the poet with whom you have now formed a relationship. It is addictive. Somewhere between a crossword and fine art. You'll never stop once you've started. And it has this additional advantage; you can take the weight off your psyche for an hour or two by trying to inhabit someone else’s.

Why is Jane Austen my standard? Because both Pushkin and Jane Austen wrote on the cusp of classicism and romanticism, and they took the best from both. Because they express so much in so few words, because they can both write with such wit and such grace that their profundity is sometimes overlooked.
Hobson began studying Russian when she was 56 and earned a PhD in the subject from London University when she was 74. She offers some advice about learning the language here. Those who speak Russian may be interested in her interview with the BBC World Service; it's beyond me. What little Russian I know comes from watching Leningrad videos: Где же Пушкин в кителе?

Valentin Serov, Alexander Pushkin on a Park Bench (1899)